The Angel of Death

Well, yesterday was the planned 50K date.  I thought things were starting to fall into place – the ankle was healed up enough to bear the dangerous footings on the hilly trails, the rains had subsided enough to let the trails dry up a bit leading to high confidence at the start.  I will post the details on my other blog in due time, but I foretold victory or tail between my legs on a previous post.  Unfortunately, the day ended prematurely with my tail between my legs along with 4 staples in my head.  Mother Nature opted to replace the expected overcast and temps in the 80’s with an overbearing sun and heat index at 100.  Fought through 14 miles and decided to rest a bit at a water station.  Apparently should have kept going as my body revolted – stood up thinking I might get sick only to gain consciousness with people standing over me with blood covered hands – not a vision I’ll forget anytime soon.  Long story short, had a stressful ambulance ride to the ER.  Took in 5 IV bags and a set of staples from a large gash in the back of my head having hit a wooden railing following by the sharp edge of a box fan on the way down (so they tell me).  Pleaded with the doctors to allow me to go back and finish, but they had my wife on their side.  Total failure and my first DNF in 17 years of running.  Looks like another solid year of training, but I’ll be back for some unfinished business.

Enough of that embarrassment, let’s get to something much more entertaining.

Northern Harrier hunting the marshes of Galveston Texas State Park January 2017

Today, I’m bringing you the same Raptor species from two different locations along the Texas Gulf Coast back in January 2017.  The Northern Harrier is one of my favorite Raptors for a couple of reasons.  The first is they are just plain cool to watch while they are scanning the fields and marshes for prey.  Deadly aerial skills that allow them turn on a dime or virtually hang in the air leveraging wind dynamics to determine the best angle to pounce.

Northern Harrier hunting the marshes of Galveston Texas State Park January 2017

Hit the jump to see and read a bit more about this deadly predator.

The other reason I really like Harriers is they are relatively easy to photograph.  Although not as stationary as the Herons you saw previously (link here), their hunting system takes a lot of the guessing game out of photographing a bird off the wire.  They will circle like standard birds of prey as they scan the ground for potential victims.  They often will follow pretty predictable circular flight patterns which brings with it the standard challenges of trying to lock on the focus especially while hand holding large glass.  However, if they  find some unaware victim, the will stop their circling and simply hover over the target.

Northern Harrier hunting the marshes of Galveston Texas State Park January 2017

It is absolutely uncanny how they can look like they are hanging in mid-air intently focused on the ground.  Must look like the Angel of Death from the rodent’s perspective should its spidey senses trigger enough to look up.  By that time it might find itself impaled on razor tipped talons.  Was curious why I have never seen them hauling off their kill and did some quick searching – according to Cornell, Harriers eat on the ground, although not stated, assume this excludes those times when it is rearing young.

Northern Harrier hunting the marshes of Galveston Texas State Park January 2017

This first set of shots, including the one below come from Galveston State Park.  This specimen was quite far off taking all the reach The Beast had to offer.  Would have liked to get you finer detail in the bird, but the crop enabling you to actually see what the bird generally looked like took a lot of that crispness out.  If you are wondering, the Northern Harrier is very accessible regardless of whether you are in the Canada region, where they do most of their breeding, or in the US down into Central America where they spend their winters if not year round.  If you see a bird that looks like it is painted in the sky by happy happy Bob Ross, then you are likely looking at a Harrier.

Northern Harrier hunting the marshes of Galveston Texas State Park January 2017

The good news, if you really want to be sure, there’s an easy way to do that if you can get a view of the topside of their bodies.  They have a white rump patch that should be very visible – again, as long as you can catch that part of their body.  Beyond those easily distinguishable traits, they are slender built, have a flatter profiled face and a nasty hook on their bill for tearing flesh.  Their tails are long and rounded at the end typically sporting some banding which I find more discernible from the top – most of the Harrier’s I have come in contact with show more of single banded tip of the tail from the underside which is the more typical angle to see.

Northern Harrier hunting the marshes of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Texas January 2017

As you can tell from shot above and below they do sport black wingtips which nicely outlines their overall whiter feathering from below.  Cornell notes that males are grey above where females and immatures have a browner palette. Immatures are also more solid buff compared to the more streaking seen in the females.  Based on the reference images, I’d probably go with both the specimens included hear as being females –  the male references looked significantly greyer than these.

Northern Harrier hunting the marshes of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Texas January 2017

Just as a final shot, here is the rump of the specimen in the last two shots which were taken over the marshes of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

Northern Harrier hunting the marshes of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Texas January 2017

I probably do not talk about Anahuac as much as I should.  It is a bit out of the way from everything and if you take the wrong path to get there, you will find yourself circling all the way around it to get to the entrance (very annoying the first time we went to the point we almost gave up).  However, once you get there, you will not be disappointed.  There are multiple elongated ponds you can drive around, boardwalks for nice Warbler hunting and then full access to the Gulf if you didn’t get your fill of water and shorebirds from the drive around the ponds. It is sure to check off a lot of Texas centric birds if you haven’t made your way down to that region yet.

I should probably let this go now and tend to the fluids, check on the staples and attempt to extract the tail between my legs – looks like another long year of training if I’m not back in form by Fall when the next possible 50K race is held – regardless, the Cry Me a River race redemption is already written on the race calendar for 2020.


2 comments on “The Angel of Death

  1. SkidMarks71

    Wow…! Glad you are ok after all of that. Sounds like quite the ordeal!

    On the plus side, at least the ankle is still good. So you have that going, right? Heh

  2. admin

    Yep, ankle was holding strong, but will never know if it was well enough for the other 16. Tonight starts the rebuild process with a plan to hit the 30 miler at Farmdale in the much cooler October weather.

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